Thursday, September 1, 2011

The name is Hyatt - I'm Single.

In 1869, John Wesley Hyatt patented the process to turn nitrocellulose and camphor into billiard balls. The process was dangerous and the end product was just as dangerous as the balls were purported to explode on heavy impact.

I can find no information about the company whose letterhead this happens to be, but the most important information is contained at the top - They sold Hyatt composition billiard balls. They also imported IVORY GOODS, which up to the turn of the century would have included pool and billiard balls made of Ivory.
Since acquiring this piece of old paper in March of this year, I've spent countless hours on the web searching for images of a single stripe and double striped number 9 Hyatt composition pool ball with little success. Photographs tend to be too small of the balls in their box, and I simply couldn't locate anybody that had a set of double stripe Hyatts. Those I could locate were pricey - nobody but nobody wanted to sell a single number 9, and I could not afford an entire set. Way out of my league.

I visited the source for the paper (actually, in search of MORE paper), and I mentioned to him that I would like to find someone willing to take a photograph of a number 9 Hyatt, and he drew his breath in and went to the basement of his shop. What he came back with was a box of Hyatt pool balls, including a set of Snooker balls. He entrusted the number 9 to me, so I brought it home with me. Two days ago I visited the local billiard supply store, Paper and Felt Billiard Supply, with the ball and camera in hand, and took photographs of the ball on an antique pool table with green felt. One of the owners, Becky Zapata, turned the lights over the table on, and let me take some photographs.

Armed with the photographs, I came home and proceeded to try various sizes of the ball on my light table to come up with an image that would not only stand on its own, but also reveal enough of the text of the letter to make some sense of what this piece of old paper is all about. I will probably never find another piece of paper quite like this, and I simply couldn't wait to "rack it up."
The contents of the letter itself are interesting. Hubbell & Grote have sent a note to Bateman-Switzer Company of Great Falls, Montana, requesting clarification of their order. --- "...You have neglected to state whether you want the number 9 ball to fill in a set of single or double stripe balls." Could the number 9 ball have exploded? After all, he was single.


  1. The image is stunning.

    Now I'm wondering about these exploding balls. I wonder how often it happened and how big a bang it made? What was the most serious injury? And if they were unstable then, how unstable are they now?

    And how soon before the company said, "Oh well. Back to the drawing board."

  2. I LOVE what you have done here, and the information you have discovered with your research is fascinating.

    Really stunning artwork.


  3. What an extraordinary journey! I enjoyed every word--and your artwork, as always fills my eyes. Exquisitely detailed. Your work is so inspiring, my Friend!

  4. Nice job on this post. Interesting story too.

    With regard to the John Smith Company. The building is still in the Smith family and the building is open when the restaurant is open. Not sure when but I hear their deli sandwiches are to die for.

  5. Very fun post! What a great story about billard balls...I never knew that they could explode!

  6. You make very meaningful artpieces, I love art that has a 'story'. Great work!

  7. Another great fitting between artwork and letterhead content Dave! Great story too. Who would have ever known someone successfully patented a process that could involve exploding billiard balls.

  8. What an interesting bit of billiards history! Very cool.